The UK has unveiled plans to potentially settle a long-running dispute between its mobile operators regarding the re-farming of 900MHz 2G spectrum for mobile broadband use. Reuters reports today that the UK’s Independent Spectrum Broker has proposed that operators be given a spectrum cap, meaning that they could hold onto the spectrum they own but would need to sell it before buying any more. The development is effectively a compromise that would allow the UK government to pursue its ‘Digital Britain’ broadband initiative without forcing some operators to hand over spectrum to competitors. The dispute stretches back to a proposal by UK regulator Ofcom in 2007 that ordered O2 UK and Vodafone UK to transfer some of their 900MHz spectrum to rivals, a plan reportedly strongly opposed by the two operators. Ofcom proposed at the time that the 900MHz spectrum could be auctioned off to their competitors, Orange UK, T-Mobile UK and 3 UK, for mobile broadband use.
The dispute escalated following the introduction of the ‘Digital Britain’ initiative earlier this year, which is aiming for every UK household to have access to broadband by 2012 and proposes the use of mobile broadband to connect rural areas. The 900MHz spectrum is deemed more suitable for mobile broadband than 1800MHz spectrum – the other frequency band used for 2G services – as the lower frequencies travel further and need fewer base stations and masts. However, while this week’s development means that O2 UK and Vodafone UK could hold onto their existing 900MHz spectrum, they would need to sell some in order to buy new spectrum freed-up by the switchover from analogue to digital TV. According to Reuters, the UK plans to auction new spectrum – in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequency bands – next year.